Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Garth A. Rattray | COVID-19 is a ‘social disease’

Published:Monday | May 18, 2020 | 12:12 AM
Police officers try to create social distancing between scores of people who gathered at the Western Union outlet at the Pavilion Mall to collect the compassionate grant issued by the Government.
Police officers try to create social distancing between scores of people who gathered at the Western Union outlet at the Pavilion Mall to collect the compassionate grant issued by the Government.

COVID-19 COULD have been stopped in its tracks if every country agreed to simultaneously lock down for one month. It would have demanded great sacrifices, taken extremely detailed planning and meticulous logistical arrangements, but it could have been done. It would have meant assuring that the vulnerable within society were taken care of and that everyone in the essential and supportive services ‘camped out’ at their relevant job sites until the month had passed.

It would have needed couriers that didn’t go home but ferried needed goods and operated from common, designated bases during the total lockdown. Only essential medical needs would necessitate transport to pre-assigned medical facilities (the healthcare workers and ancillary staff would camp out there also), while consultations and medications would carry on via telemedicine arrangements. Other than that, no one would leave their immediate spaces (homes and yards) for one month. If that had been done, COVID-19 would have nowhere to go and would have ceased transmission. However, human beings don’t seem to be capable of that level of community spirit and sacrifice, so here we are … in serious trouble with people dying from it every day.

I see COVID-19 as a ‘social disease’. The term was once analogous with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – once called VDs – like gonorrhoea. Interestingly, both STIs and COVID-19 can be prevented by separation – maintaining a safe distance, abstention – avoiding contact and, if there is contact or closeness, transmission can be significantly minimised by using ‘protection’ (masks and sanitisation in the case of COVID-19 and barrier methods like condoms in the case of most STIs). So, whenever I see people walking around in public spaces without masks (barefaced), I’m reminded of those who go around having sexual intercourse with total or relative strangers without condoms (‘bareback’).


Another definition of ‘social disease’ is a social inconvenience or evil (bad thing). COVID-19 fits the bill; it’s certainly a horrendous inconvenience, but one that we must endure if we are to survive and overcome as individuals, communities and as a country. It is obvious that COVID-19 often telegraphs its punches, much in the same way that some boxers telegraph their punches. It’s up to the opponent to block or slip the punch to avoid losing the fight.

COVID-19 telegraphed its punches when it came to the BPO sector. Many bodies in confined, air-conditioned spaces, sharing work stations and equipment, close encounters at doorways, bathrooms and eating areas are ways that this disease ‘telegraphed’ its intent to infect as many people as possible. Anyone could and should have seen it coming, but not enough blocking and/or slipping was done. The result was a steep and irreversible upswing in the trajectory of COVID-19 in Jamaica; the ultimate price that we are all going to pay is not yet known.

It’s very obvious to me that COVID-19 is, once again, overtly telegraphing its next big punch; and it may be a knockout blow to our beloved country. Citizens are bunching up to collect money at various places. These congregations are large and tight, the perfect conditions to spread the malevolent SARS-CoV2 virus. Generally, people are in close contact with many others, and most are either not wearing masks or wearing them on their foreheads, chins or under their noses. I witnessed garage workers in close contact, talking face to face with everyone and with anyone who came in off the street. My warnings and admonitions fell on deaf ears and were rebuffed with (ignorant) boasts of how strong their immune systems are.

Despite the BPO faux pas, Jamaica is doing fairly well, but the authorities must act now to minimise further transmission. There needs to be pre-emptive security force presence, where people congregate, to strictly enforce social distancing and the wearing of masks in public.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and